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Managing Social Security Survivor’s Benefits

Old woman discusses social security survivor benefits with lawyer

Social Security survivor’s benefits provide our significant others with financial safety after we are gone.  But in order to realize the most from these benefits, survivors need to know the appropriate time to file a claim.

Although you can claim these benefits as early as age 60, tapping into them before you reach full retirement age will cause them to be permanently reduced.   But if you wait until full retirement age to claim survivor’s benefits, you’ll get 100 percent of your spouse’s benefits or – if your spouse died prior to collecting benefits – 100 percent of what your spouse’s benefit would have been when they reached retirement age.

Survivor benefits are different from regular retirement benefits, which can increase by six to eight percent each year that you delay up until you turn 70.You won’t be able to claim retirement and survivor’s benefits at the same time, so you’ll need to compare the two to determine which is higher.

To figure out your best course of action, look at your retirement benefit at your retirement age, as well as at age 70, and compare that number to your survivor’s benefit.  If your retirement benefit when you turn 70 will be greater than the survivor’s benefit, it makes sense to claim the survivor’s benefit when you hit your retirement age. That way, you can let the retirement benefit build up in value and switch over to that when you turn 70.

So, let’s say a widow has the option of collecting full retirement benefits of $2,000/month or survivor’s benefits of $2,100/month.

She can take the survivor’s benefits, allowing the retirement benefits to continue to grow. When she turns 70, her retirement benefit will be around $2,480/month, and she can switch to retirement benefits. Depending on her expectancy, this strategy may make sense even if the survivor’s benefit is initially smaller than the retirement benefit.

Keep in mind that divorced spouses are also entitled to survivor’s benefits if the marriage lasted up to 10 years. If you remarry before turning 60, you won’t be eligible for survivor’s benefits, but remarriage after 60 does not affect these benefits.

If you remarry, you may need to factor in your new partner’s spousal benefit when determining the best way to maximize benefits.

Do you have questions about social security and survivor’s benefits? Turn to Gummer Elder Law. Our attorneys have spent years helping senior citizens make sure they get the benefits they deserve.